I'm still spending time with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. I have another film version to watch (hopefully this evening), which was produced by the BBC and Time-Life Films. I'll be curious to see if it follows the play more closely than the Trevor Nunn adaptation (which I thought was fabulous, but it was impossible to read along). I've also picked up Marjorie Garber's Shakespeare After All. I've started reading her essay on the play. It's on the long side, so it may take me a few days to wade through it, but I can't recommend this book highly enough for some excellent analysis and criticism by a renowned Shakespearean authority (well, so says the book's blurb anyway).
When I started reading Shakespeare's plays I wasn't sure how to approach them, but I'm finding a pattern I like that seems to work for me. With Romeo and Juliet (the first play I read) I thought it would be good to read Garber's essay first, but it was confusing and I didn't have enough knowledge of the play to make sense of what Garber was talking about. She discusses the play but she draws on similar themes from other plays. I like that she writes about Shakespeare's work as a whole, though with only a few plays under my belt I don't always make the connections. Still, as I continue to make my way through his work I'm sure I'll find many common threads running through the plays and see what he changes and how his work develops overall. This is the first time I'm actually feeling like my head is above water as I'm reading. Something is starting to finally click, which is sort of an exciting feeling.
So once again I have a feeling that this post is really more for me than you, as I sort through themes and meanings in Twelth Night, or What You Will. I may add to this post as I work my way through Garber's essay, but here are a few notes on the play:
Twelfth Night refers to the evening before January 6 (the twelfth day of Christmas), which is an English holiday. It's also known as the Feast of the Epiphany when the three Magi came from the East bearing gifts for the Christ child. Epiphany has the added meaning of "a sudden flash of insight, or a sudden recognition of identity". This is, of course, a major theme in the play with its disguised identities and misunderstandings that only later work themselves out as real identities are unmasked.
Often in Shakespeare's comedies there is some sort of "middle world" (like the forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream), but Twelfth Night instead has a sinking ship off the coast of Illyria. Here the sea world invades the land world.
"In Twelfth Night the 'outsiders' not only bring the comic elements of energy, desire, and fruitfully mistaken identities; they also bring key elements from another literary genre: romance. The world of romance invades the world of comedy."
Rebirth is often a theme in Shakespeare's plays. In this case rebirth from the sea, but in Twelfth Night there is the added theme of "sexual love and growth". Twins have shown up in other plays, but here the twins are male and female. Viola, dressed as a boy, is able to educate both Olivia and Orsino in love. Coming from the "middle space" or in this case, "sea world", Viola is in disguise and and is both genders.
One more thing. Apparently (and why not) "romance, the genre of Shakespeare's late plays, was a popular Elizabethan mode". Garber goes on to say, "a fundamentally narrative genre, which would eventually give rise to the modern novel, romance always turns on the epiphany, and on moments of rebirth". Interesting, no?
That's probably enough for one Sunday afternoon post. It's fascinating stuff Garber writes about and I'm looking forward to reading more. So I'll leave you now and get to it.